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The Spirituality of Nikos Kazantzakis L. Michael Spath, D.Min., Ph.D. OPENING READING – From Nikos Kazantzakis’ The Saviors of God: Spiritual Exercises A vehement Eros runs through the Universe. It is harder than steel, softer than air. It cuts through and passes beyond all things, it flees and escapes. It is a Militant Eros. Behind the shoulders of its beloved it perceives mankind surging and roaring like waves, it perceives animals and plants uniting and dying, it perceives the Universe imperiled and shouting to it: "Save me!" Eros? What other name may we give that impetus which becomes enchanted as soon as it casts its glance on matter and then longs to impress its features upon it? It longs to merge with the other erotic cry, to become one till both may become deathless. It approaches the soul and wishes to merge with it so that "you" and "I" may no longer exist. It smashes the duality of mind and body, to merge all breaths into one Divine Monad. In moments of crisis this Erotic Love swoops down on human beings and binds them together. It is a breath superior to all of them, independent of their desires and deeds. It is the Spirit, the breathing on the earth of what human beings call God. And it comes in whatever form it wishes - as dance, as Eros, as hunger, as religion, as art, and does not ask our permission. MEDITATION We come from a dark abyss, we end in a dark abyss, and we call the luminous interval life. As soon as we are born the return begins, at once the setting forth and the coming back; we die in every moment. Because of this many have cried out: The goal of life is death. But also as soon as we are born we begin the struggle to create, to compose, to turn matter into life; we are born in every moment. Because of this many have cried out: The goal of life is immortality. In the temporary living organism these two streams collide: the ascent toward composition, toward life, toward immortality; the descent toward decomposition, toward matter, toward death. Both streams well up from the depths of primordial essence. And both opposites are holy. It is our duty, therefore, to grasp that vision which can embrace and harmonize these two enormous, timeless, and indestructible forces, and with this vision to modulate our thinking and our action. CLOSING WORDS Our profound human duty is not to interpret or to cast light on the divine rhythm of the universe, but to adjust, as much as we can, the rhythm of our fleeting life to it. Only thus may we mortals succeed in achieving something that might be considered immortal, because we collaborate with something that is Deathless…. Every person and nation, every plant and every animal, every god and demon charges upward like an army inflamed by an incomprehensible, unconquerable, indomitable Spirit. We struggle to make this Spirit, this vital Energy visible, to give it a face, to encase it in words, in allegories and thoughts and incantations, that may not escape us. But it cannot be contained in the letters of an alphabet – not in all the letters of all the alphabets in the world – which we string out in rows, we know that all these words, these allegories, these thoughts, and these incantations are, once more, but a new mask with which to conceal the Abyss.
the earth. among whose reasons was one of Kazantzakis’ other books. Michael Spath. a heroic Odysseus who “develops the courage and integrity to embrace the great contradictions of human existence. I want to merge with it. so finally. his father a farmer who sold feed to shepherds in surrounding villages. Ultimate Despair. its joys and tears. On the tombstone. Mystery. “I hope for nothing. Silence…. or heaven. If there has been a single influence in whom I have found a kindred spirit and who has shaped my own understanding of the energies. an erotic Spirit in creation itself. He was an accomplished novelist and playwright. God is not a being. and cracked. Matter. written in Greek was the epitaph: Den elpizo tipota. his mother a pious Orthodox woman.” (Zarathustra) Kazantzakis writes: We see the highest circle of spiraling powers. but the Fire that consumes humanity. but an increasingly and progressively evolving Eros.D. This spark leaps from generation to generation. The first time I was there. it is Nikos Kazantzakis. there is a solitary tomb with no name. but this was too flesh. losing in 1952 by one vote to Albert Camus. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature on numerous occasions.” he writes at the beginning of his spiritual autobiography. Schooled by Franciscan monks. The Last Temptation of Christ. INTRODUCTION In a little park on a hilltop overlooking the city of Heraklion. was a solitary fire-red rose – the second time. the evolutionary process itself. Lenin’s Marxist revolutionary activism. Absolute Light. fiery essence which some call God. I want to leap and to burn with it. I divine a struggling. a divine eros always working through blood and tears. all-knowing. Crete. He was born in 1883 in Heraklion. the earth and the heavens. Spirit. third. wrapped in tinfoil. but transcending Homer. We might have given it other names: Abyss.. crude. earth and sky.” It is the tomb of the author of Zorba the Greek. De phobumai tipota. “That which interests me is not humanity. I am free. But on his native Crete. but this was devoid of the transcendent.” God – if one must use that word – is the creative surge within all matter. God is an erotic wind and shatters all bodies that he might drive on. The pilgrimage of the truly spiritual struggle leads you through ego and race and humanity into the natural world. he went off to university in both Athens and Paris to study Philosophy. Crete. . This flame that consumes the world. an élan vital. It is hewn out of black Cretan marble. “Behind all appearances. Nor is God a predetermined goal toward which history proceeds. He was not buried in a church cemetery as was the custom because he had been excommunicated by the Orthodox archbishop in Athens. and all my work a commentary on that Cry. Ph. each identified with one of “four great souls”: his life begins with a traditional embrace of the Orthodox Christ. D. he embraced Odysseus (Ulysses in the Roman myths). and plunge oneself into the Invisible Energy that permeates all things. and even served for a short period in the Greek government as Minister of Social Relief for refugees during the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. THE DIVINE EROTIC CRY “My entire Soul is a Cry. and have named it God.THE CRETAN GLANCE The Spirituality of Nikos Kazantzakis L. without flying into an imaginary world. Eimai leuteros.. still under Ottoman rule. Nikos Kazantzakis. almighty. all-holy. Ultimate Hope. a vital. passions. animating energy at the heart of the universe and within the human heart. desires of the human heart – of my heart and my mind and my spirit – and the transcendent rhythms of the universe. so he turned to the Buddha’s inner peace. Absolute Darkness.Min. but this was too constricting. he was granted secretly on this hilltop set apart. jagged. which coincidentally had already banned in the 1950’s by the Roman Catholic Church – and remains banned to this day – made into the 1988 Martin Scorsese movie. too world-denying. I fear nothing. lying on the tomb. no date of birth or death. a private Christian burial. a spray of browning white roses – a simple wooden cross made out of two unplanned branches casting its shadow across the roses.” He divides his life into four stages. He is my patron saint.
Ithaca is the voyage itself. vault over its back. a personal god. and embodied in the figure of Saint Francis of Assisi. country.” but holds on to them both.333 lines. and to live. symbolic of the flesh. the suffering of the innocent. because the spirit evolves in and through the flesh. the “sweet Mask of Death” of family. “like that round fruit which two lips make when they are kissing” – there is the luminous. and land safely behind it. Yet in Kazantzakis’ sequel. Odysseus soon tires of the idleness. is nothing more than an illusion. with courage. So it was. details Odysseus’ ten-year journey home after the ten-year Trojan Wars. Penelope. the incessant voyage in search of home. staring into the face of seductive death. and embodied in the figure of Zorba. symbolic of the dark shadow that Death casts over a life – bittersweet tears.” THE CRETAN GLANCE From the ruins of the palace of Knossos in Crete.1500 BCE. ever-struggling human spirit. which he called “God. as Kazantzakis puts it. Both are necessary. Kazantzakis’ Odysseus left the security of his home in search of the evolutionary Eros that runs through the heart of the world. although we dream of such security – “there’s no place like home” – but rather. for Kazantzakis. For most people. as you recall. anticipating the Sirens sweet seductive song that has plunged previous sailors to their rocky deaths. and now in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. plugs the ears of his shipmates with beeswax. But how shall the courageous human being face the power of this darkness? . he leaves his ears unplugged so that he might experience. and there is the dark. becomes the archetype of the spiritual struggler. because the spirit has no value apart from the flesh. Kazantzakis tells us in this myth. no matter how beautiful or seductive. young athletes in loincloths. the achieve-ment of union through the dissolution of the ego into the Ground of all being. This is why Kazantzakis calls his Odysseus “a god-slayer in search of God. leap toward its sharp horns. the culmination of a twelve-year process. and civilizing impulse of Apollo. Kazantzakis’s Odysseus epitomizes the hero who “transubstantiates flesh into spirit. Whereas Homer’s Odysseus voyaged in search of his native land. friends. live. rush. we either turn and run. unrequited love. So he sets off again. rational. Anything or anyone – any ideology or philosophy or art. the solar god. an opiate that sedates the ever-ascending. For. to save the ego from annihilation. no matter how one defines home. Kazantzakis’ sees this ancient Minoan fresco as symbolic of his life. and the human heart is a restless heart. written in 24 books (one for each letter of the Greek alphabet) and in 33. the god of wine and ecstasy. Odysseus. in the winter of 1938. Kazantzakis finally published his The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel to Homer’s original. might taste the full seduction longing of longing for the dark Abyss. or deny its presence. In it a bull charges violently.” Home is the last temptation. Homer’s original epic. and they live happily ever after. the journey toward home.ODYSSEUS You remember the story where Odysseus. salvation from death. Dionysius. an impersonal energy. male and female both. but instructs them to tie him to the ship’s mast. primal breaker-of taboos. and duty. his great spiritual hero. The bull. a mosaic was found dating from c. intoxicated. He arrives at his home in Ithaca and slaughters the suitors who wait to marry his beloved and mourning supposed widow. And Dionysius (who originated in India) is the supreme ideal of Eastern religion. Apollo is the supreme ideal of Western religion. The true home is the struggle for home. the tragedy of death – is an everpresent reality. Odysseus holds the two great opposing forces in a dynamic tension. any religion or god that resolves that restlessness. a creative synthesis. both belong to Odysseus. the never-ending quest. the goal of life is not the safety and security of home. symbolic of spirit. For Kazantzakis. and his heart. both divine. the security.
nor the Holy Ghost. this I call “the Cretan Glance. The supreme purpose of the struggle? Union with God…. the joys and sorrows of all life. Kazantzakis says in the Prologue to The Last Temptation of Christ. restless. I was so moved that my eyes filled with tears…. (Last Temptation of Christ) I keep my heart flaming. You are not my child. this ascent to which every human being is called. all you’re left with is three souls. I had never felt the blood of Christ fall drop by drop into my heart with so much sweetness. nor a plaything in my hands. I loved my body and did not want it to perish.” If you are able to dance with the tragic elements of life in both ecstasy and joy and to laugh in the face of this darkness – this is the highest calling of humanity. I am not the Father. finally. is not for the faint of heart. I am not a home. You are my comrade-in-arms.” “That is what I want! Which road should I follow? The most craggy ascent! Follow me!” So in the end. lest I break. the spirit. The Cry within me is a call to arms. has opened in me large wounds and also large flowing springs. but most often it is unconscious and short-lived. This struggle breaks out in everyone. who: “The dual substance of Christ – the yearning. because a weak soul does not have the endurance to resist the flesh for very long. an Odysseus figure.’” (Saviors of God: Spiritual Exercises) And so. without hope yet without fear. It is a carnivorous bird which is incessantly hungry. nor the Son. The heroic and playful eyes. embrace the deepest part of the flesh. you are not my servant. I am not heaven.” At which stage are you? . harsher than that of the heart. That is why the mystery of Christ is not simply a mystery for a particular creed or particular culture or particular people. the ascending Rhythm of the universe. CHRIST AS ODYSSEUS And so. and his Christ is recast. I am your General. the Darkness. This nostalgia for God. … to return to God. of humanity to attain God.Kazantzakis writes: You triumph without killing the terrible bull because you think of it not as an enemy but as a collaborator. for Kazantzakis. am the Lord your God! I am not a refuge. three stages of the spiritual journey: “I am a bow in your hands. the Cry at the heart of Being Itself. “What is most difficult?” he asks. so as to also. which so confront the Bull. I feel in my heart all commotions and contradictions. has always been a deep inscrutable mystery to me. eager to embrace this world. Do not bend me too much.” He continues: “The stronger the soul and the flesh. And you. I loved my soul and did not want it to decay. Lord. God does not love weak souls and flabby flesh. with so much pain…. it eats flesh and assimilates it. courageous. But I struggle to subdue them to a Rhythm superior to that of the mind. And even though he uses traditional Christian language. This is a Christ. The Spirit wants to have to wrestle with flesh which is strong and full of resistance. through it. so human. It shouts: ‘I. so superhuman. the more fruitful the struggle and the richer the final harmony. the Cry. eager to embrace the flesh. It is universal. Bend me lest I rot. and this is where joy can be found. bend me and who cares if I break. three prayers. You are not my friend. “My anguish has been intense. “God” represents the evolutionary Rhythm. we come to Kazantzakis’ figure of Christ. without the bull you could not become so strong or graceful or your spirit so courageous. This is a dangerous game and to play it you need great physical and spiritual discipline. O Lord. but not the Christ of the Bible or the Christian tradition.
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